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The political environment of two of the world’s leading countries has always held a degree of interest amongst researchers of international relations and politics. It has perhaps to do with the level of impact that the internal and external policies of these two governments have on the global economy. In this paper, we shall attempt to understand the differences and similarities between the political setups of the UK and the USA and follow the strategies and tactics of the elected governments over the past decade or so. At this stage, it is important to point out that there are many contrasting viewpoints on some of the decisions taken by the governments of these countries, hopefully; they can in their own way provide an all encompassing picture of the political canvas that surrounds these countries.
On the one hand, we shall discuss in detail the formation of the Democratic government with Bill Clinton until the current Republican administration of George Bush. On the other side of the Atlantic, we shall visit a different piece of history where Tony Blair and the British Labour Party which has been in power over much the same period.
Beginning with the UK, the Labour Party has been somewhat of a trendsetter. It has been in power in the UK since 1992 with its first elected leader as John Smith. 2 years later, with the passing away of John Smith, Tony Blair was elected as the leader of the Labour Party and has remained so ever since. The party has been in existence through the most part of the 20th century and it came into being on the backs of the large labour force during the advent of the industrial revolution in the UK. It has been seen as the voice of the people and responsible for many social causes such as the introduction of free education and healthcare (when it has been in power during various pockets of the 20th century). The NHS (National Health Service) was created by the Labour Party and is the lifeline on which the people of Britain are heavily dependent upon. Over the years, the Labour party has also been known to be the ‘People’s party’ – as the name suggests it represents the needs of the people at all levels of society. Interestingly, Tony Blair in the Book – “The People’s Party” by Wright & Carter (1997) mentions that the Labour Party is different from all other parties in Britain for 2 primary reasons. Firstly, it is a relatively new party that has been created over the course of the 20th century and imbibes the modern values and cultural needs of the people. Unlike other parties, it understands the contemporary needs of people and is proxy to the more recent callings of the nation. Secondly, the formation of the party did not take place in the City of Westminster. It was created as a result of the needs of the people in the countryside and in the small towns that lined the UK.
The Labour Party was also renowned for bringing in a breath of fresh values and beliefs in comparison to the Conservative Party that had become to be known as the party which didn’t bring about changes to the degree required by the people. With Labour in power over the last decade, things have changed today. It all began very well with Tony Blair drafting policies that was well accepted by the people, but ever since; the Party has seen a steady decline in support over the years. A few years back, there were reservations that the Labour government could not take the country beyond a certain point. Soon after, Tony Blair’s uncompromising support of the US to enter the Iraq War was seen as a shot in the foot for the party. The people were divided in their sentiments on supporting Labour to take down the Saddam Hussein regime. In their opinion, it was correct to go into Iraq but through the United Nations and not as part of the US Taskforce. The few who believed otherwise began to change their minds after the invasion of Iraq when more and more British soldiers were killed in action. This created huge waves of disappointment in the UK and the support of the British people slowly left Labour. Whilst Tony Blair was re-elected in 2005, it was by the narrowest margin in the decade old history of the government. And even though Tony Blair finds himself in power, his position at the moment isn’t the best it could be.
Moving on to the US side of elections and government policies, the most basic difference in the US is that it has adopted a presidential form of government as opposed to the parliamentary system in the UK. Bill Clinton, a democrat was voted into power in 1993. This was around the same time that the Labour party came into power in the UK. However, the political campaign was not a bed of roses for Clinton. His character was questioned with examples being cited from the Vietnam War of a ‘character issue’. At the same time, he was also personally attacked for alleged infidelity which both him and his wife – Hillary refuted and embarked on a campaign through television interviews and other media vehicles to reassure the American public that they had a strong and workable marriage. To add to this, just prior to the elections, the Clinton’s were involved in what came to be known as the ‘Whitewater Real estate’ scandal. Through trial in 1996, the partners in the venture were all convicted of fraud whereas the Bill Clinton was never accused of any wrong-doings on his part. The first real challenge that Clinton faced after being elected was to allow homosexuals in the armed forces. This was faced with a lot of resentment and he received considerable flak for allowing such a rule to prevail in the military. After much debate, it was agreed that homosexuality would not be used against the people serving in the armed forces – more like a ‘Don’t ask me and I wont tell’ policy. Internally, Clinton also faced problems with the issues of welfare reform, the prevention of crime and the healthcare system. The one area that Clinton really shone was on the international map. He instrumented many successes for the US and built valuable bridges for the country’s future. Some of these achievements included the showcasing of America as a friend to the Israel – Jordan peace program, an improvement in the relations with Russian by proposing economic benefits to President Boris Yeltsin, tackling the instability and security issues in countries in Eastern Europe such as Bosnia and lastly, the improving of relations between the US and India, China and the Far eastern countries. The one significant area which was worked upon together with Tony Blair was the NATO intervention in 1999. Here, the 2 leaders worked to get the NATO to respond to the ethnic cleansing that was taking place in the Serbian capital of Kosovo. As a result, they were able to bomb Serbia for 78 days. However, Clinton did face some degree of criticism of holding back the troops to enter Serbia but was rewarded soon after since the President of Serbia did sign a peace treaty in the following months after the bombing campaign.
And Clinton was re-elected and stayed in power till 2001. During his stint, he was popularly renowned for giving America its most prosperous period in terms of peace and economic well-being. The US faced its lowest ever period of unemployment, the highest home ownership in the history of the country and the lowest rate of inflation as well. The only slur on his tenure came in the form of the ‘Monica Lewinsky Scandal’ where he was allegedly involved intimately with one of the White House interns. It must be noted that Clinton was the first president to ever appear before a grand jury in an investigation. Over a period of time, the people of the US gradually forgot about this scandal and allowed him to move on with the governing of the country. On the whole, Clinton was remarkably adept at improving the American equation with a host of countries it had not done so in the past – South Africa, India, China and many more especially in the South East.
George Bush came into power in the year 2001 as the successor to Bill Clinton. However, he is a Republican and in a short space of time, came to have an impact on world politics and international relations in a way never conceived before. Bush’s tenure has been populated wit the fight against terrorism which began with the attack on the World Trade Centre on September 11th 2001. This has been somewhat of a 2 phased campaign against terrorism. Initially, it began with the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, the terrorist responsible for the September 11th attacks and the corresponding hunt to catch him in the country of Afghanistan. More recently, the campaign trail has focused its efforts on the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. And this in turn, has divided the American public in their opinion on whether the act of entering Iraq was in fact, justified. The problems for Bush rose closer to the end of his first electoral period when many American soldiers were being killed in Iraq. The people of the US were growing more and more uneasy with the Iraq campaign and Bush was on the verge of losing his chances of being re-elected in the next election. Experts found that Bush had unfortunately concentrated his efforts and attention too heavily on the war against terror and people were getting tired of it. Additionally, the common man was looking to improve his / her standard of living and with unemployment rising and a stained economic scenario, Bush was looking like he might be in trouble. However, the primary strategy adopted by the Republican administration was to try and highlight the economic benefits that the Bush administration had created over the years and try and push into the background, the campaign against terrorism and the Iraq War. Add to this, the opposition leader from the Democratic Party did not have the political clout to seriously challenge the Republicans. All these ingredients came together to ensure that George Bush was re-elected into power for the second election term. Ever since his second elected term, George Bush and his political policies have stayed relatively sublime in the eyes of the people and the media. What has never ceased to stir interest and conflict in the minds of the people of both the US and the UK is the relationship shared by the two leaders. Both Bush and Blair have been known to share similar political agendas and Tony Blair has received a lot of flak for supporting Bush on the Iraq War and other global political campaigns. The general consensus in the UK is that Tony Blair has not done justice to the UK by bending backwards to the demands of the US. This was once again, explicitly highlighted with growing number of deaths of British soldiers in Iraq. At the time of writing this report, the feeling shared by most people is whether the War on Iraq was justified in the first place and was there a need to go in to it supporting the US as opposed to entering Iraq as the United Nations. Unfortunately, the UK has been hit by a wave of terrorist attacks in the last few months and this has made the people much more uncomfortable in the security assurances by the Blair government. Going forward, the relationship between these 2 leaders is always going to be tested as the people of these countries learn to live through problems inflicting upon them.
People and Democracy have been long standing battles between governments and masses. There are a lot of issues which are of prime importance to the government for resurrecting their policies and objectives, the people on the other hand have to understand the impact of these policies to determine how they vote for the government and their representative. In the current scenario, the re lections of George Bush and Tony Blair took place amidst a lot of surprise, indignation, horror and laxity, while some people were expecting it, the others had nothing but stingy remarks about how uninformed people are about world issues to bring back leaders like Bush and Blair back in the lime light. The highlight and common issue which has plagued both these leaders has been terrorism and the Iraq war. It all started with the unfortunate 9/11 attacks on the twin towers. In his quest to prove to the American public his commitment to the people, Bush extended his powers to regimes in Iraq and other places which were supposed breeding grounds for the likes of Osama Bin Laden and terrorism. Tony Blair in his quest to support the American government participated in the war at an equal footing. The people and democracy in USA and UK has harnessed a notion of fight against terror yet the public has been against the government’s initiatives.
- Approach and Messaging
- Public Meetings
- Agendas for these meetings – Iraq, Health, Taxation, Drugs, Education, Homeland Security, National Security and Environment
- Press Relations
Communication is a powerful tool which has been used many a times to gain power and win elections. The communication strategy can be based on various levels covering press releases, campaigns, canvassing, advertisement and mailers among other avenues. Even then the communication strategy used in USA differs a great deal from that of UK; this will be discussed and dissected later in another section.
Richards Paul(2001) in his book, How to win an election talks about preparation and planning, the different tribes of politics, planning a campaign, direct campaigning and indirect campaigning.
Elections are probably one of the most components which differentiate a democratic society from a non democratic society. An election is what makes a democracy work when people truly have a right to vote and choose who is their representative and who would drive and support their. General elections decide which party goes ahead and forms a government and also how the politics and economy work for a country. There have been various attempts to increase interest in elections and their outcomes. In UK, the home office came up with a list of variations:-
- “Polling hours: variations in polling hours to allow different start or finish times.
- Polling days: moving polling to an alternative weekday or a day at the weekend or allowing voting over more than one day.
- Early voting: opening a limited number of polling stations in the period before polling day at accessible locations to allow any eligible elector to vote.
- Mobile polling: providing a mobile polling station which could take the ballot box to groups of voters, for example, by visiting residential and convalescent homes.
- Out of area voting: allowing electors to vote at any polling station in the electoral area, or even outside it
- All postal ballots: allowing an election to be held on the basis of postal voting only
- Electronic voting: supplementing polling booths and polling stations with automated voting equipment, telephone voting or online remote voting via the internet.”
[Richards Paul (2001), p 20-70]
No election can be fought in isolation; there are always background issues which have relevance to the election and campaigning. In September 2000 the British government almost came to a halt due to the widely proclaimed petrol price protests, yet no politician or government was prepared for this action and its repercussions. Candidates who are seen as rising stars could soon be biting dust; history is littered with example of failed careers as aspiring politicians have lost their claim to fame due to the unpredictable ways of elections. Elections have always been a ground of unpredictability and surprises, who would have thought that Winston Churchill after his brilliant win in the year 1940 would be miserably defeated in 1945. The conservatives suffered badly in the year 2001 when Tony Blair defeated them with a massive victory. One does not need massive knowledge about political theory and how it works to know that elections are random and unpredictable. The reason being, that elections are all about people, people who decide who they want to vote for or who they want to disregard based on their perceptions. People are beyond scientific interpretation or calculations, how they react and what the do is beyond anyone’s understanding of the human psyche. Interestingly so the way people choose a brand of washing liquid is probably the way they choose their next political leader. Elections need a lot of research and manpower; there are strategists, campaigners, sociologists, pollsters who work on the way the votes would swing in a direction. There is intense study involved about the last elections and the way they panned, the way people reacted to the campaign and the activities undertaken by the previous government. Modern politics has become an art, the most unlikely candidate can sweep house, and how does one explain the theory behind the victory of George W. Bush? Although politicians will try to sway the way voters work but in a democratic society it is always difficult to understand what really make the people tick. A lot of incidents in political history show how elections can actually sway either way for any candidate and no amount of confidence can confirm the victory or loss in a campaign. In the April 1970, Prime Minister Harold Wilson was extremely fond of using a football metaphor, “If I were a football manager, on present form I would be more worried about job security than I am a prime minister”. Harold Wilson lost the elections in June, 1970, his confidence in his victory was based on real time facts like good poll ratings, sound majority in the House of Commons, media and peer opinion led him to think so. [Richards Paul (2001), p. 45-55] Yet the voters had other ideas in mind, despite all the facts pointing in the direction of a straight win, Wilson lost badly. So no matter how one campaigns, votes cannot be taken for granted as situations can change really fast.
Election campaigns are a very expensive task, consuming hundreds of millions for resources like advertising, media, posters, television broadcasts, direct mail and canvassing. In short winning an election is a tough job and a risky business. Politics is similar to fashion, it runs of trends and fads which are hard to predict and adopt. Election campaigns are also dependent on unforeseen circumstances which can prop up anytime, scandals, loose press criticism, reports and issues which can blow the campaign in minutes. Campaigns are dictated by what Harold Macmillan calls “events dear boy, events”, they cannot be run with static rules, one need to get innovative and adapt to the current environment and what it seeks. A set of tactics is not what drives one to political victory; it’s the form of changing and learning from others mistakes and best known practices. As the soviet foreign minister said to Ernest Bevin, “the disadvantage of free elections is that you can never be sure who is going to win them”. [Richards Paul (2001), p 30-40]
Richard Paul (2001, p. 65 – 75) says “Other than the artistry of the campaign, there is science too. There are components and buildings blocks of a campaign which are crucial to standing a chance. There are the techniques tested against real experience and real elections, and the accumulated knowledge of a thousand campaigns and campaigners. There are a plenty of representative politicians in office today all over the world who owe their positions of power not to have a better ideas or even a majority of support, but thanks to better organization. The result of the 2000 US presidential election was decided on the tiniest margins, was won by an organization – the ability to get out the vote”.
This takes us to how much a campaign contributes in the election results and which way they go. Political choices are made by voters not just by weeks and months of campaigning. Neil Connock famously said that “elections are won in years, not weeks”, the voters get to decide whom they vote for based on a combination on reasons, one of them being a campaign which serves a reminder of what has been done in the past. Analyst David Butler echoes the idea of a campaign as a ritual. He says, “The campaign may to some extent be a ritual dance, a three-week repetition of well-aired themes, making no substantial net difference to the outcome. British elections are usually won over the long haul. A very large proportion of people vote out of loyalty, supporting the party that they and their parents too have always supported; those that change their minds are usually converted, not because of the final three weeks, but over the months and years because of an accumulated impression, positive or negative, and of the values and the performance of rival parties”.
[Richards Paul (2001), p. 50 – 65]
Politics in America has been an integral part of International Politics and it affects all nations. If we look at the American political and electoral process and their insightful history, it would help understand how democratic they are in their ways. Richard Maidment and Anthony Mcbrew (1993) in their book, “the American political process”, talk about liberal democracy in the American political system. The language of the current American politics can leave little doubt in our minds that it’s all about democrats and upholding the values and power of democracy where the public and voters stand the strongest. A very important factor which distinguishes the American society and the people also its political stance is the society. The lack of class consciousness in the American society, the heterogeneous religious and social environment also the lack of feudal system has made it into such a democratic society. The American attitude towards government politics has been very individualistic. The stress has always been on the American offices being run by a place of legality and enshrined in the view that this is what makes this society and political distinctive. The nation is so heterogeneous in its approach and outlook that it’s difficult to pinpoint the political culture. The American politicians have had a large share of history and legacy to deal with, the American history which needs the same culture to carry on. The politicians need to make their own choices of public policy options all of which need acceptance on a wider level within the system. It just means that the boundaries are being stretched and the politicians and political systems so that there is a room for more man oeuvre.
George Bush had a lot to inherit and manage considering that they were taking over from the Reagan administration right at the beginning of his political career. In 1989, the relationship between the Soviet Union and the USA were brimming the brightest and that the time due to a lot of positive activity in Easter Europe the USA’s position was fairly strong. In this light of the American political system one does need to consider the importance of congress in the political arena of America. The congress has always been an important aspect of the American election and political arena. In 1985, Woodrow Wilson wrote of the congress: “It is unquestionably the predominant and controlling force, the center and source of all motive and of all regulative power …the legislature is the aggressive spirit…it has entered more and more into the details of administration, until it has virtually taken into its own hands all the substantial powers of government…I know not how better to describe our form of government in a single phrase than by calling it a government by the chairman of the standing committees of congress (Wilson, 1956, pp.31, 44, 49, 52)”
[Richard Maidment and Anthony Mcbrew (1993), p 110-140]
Some years later another very distinguished gentleman who took great care in understanding the American society said, “Congress has been the branch government with the largest facilities for usurping the powers of the other branches, and probably with the most dispositions to do so. It has succeeded in occupying nearly all of the area which the constitution left vacant and unallocated between the second authorities it established. (Bryce, 1889, Vol.2, pp. 711-12)”. [Richard Maidment and Anthony Mcbrew (1993), p 140-180]
Brian White, Richard Little and Michael smith (1997) in their book, Issues in World Politics, talks about the political environment across the world, states and statehood, trade money and markets, regions, development and inequality, arms and arms control, nationalism and ethnic conflict, environment and natural resources. An important aspect of today’s political systems and elections is the role media plays in keeping everyone informed. All the information that we now receive locally, nationally or internationally is thanks to media which may come in various forms like television, radio, newspaper and the modern internet communications. Information is now available free and easy unlike the olden days when a lot of places were thought to be remote and so information traveled slower than usual. All that has changed now, all the political issues and what affects the leaders from coming to power is all available on media. The media is playing an important role now where globalization is making the world a smaller place. Someone like George Bush had to see CNN to understand the Iraq situation since it brought the latest news to the public. The elections use the television as a medium to get their message across to the public and let them know of the work being undertaken by them. All of the canvassing and public debates between political opponents are covered by television on a global scale so that countries across continents have complete up to date knowledge about the happenings. Elections in USA and UK the world super powers are an important place for international policies or national policies which will affect other countries that are in business/trade with them. The selection of the political leader is also an important cause since it determines the amiability or hostility of maintaining relationships with leaders of some countries. The two last most controversial elections have been that of George Bush in USA and Tony Blair in UK especially in the wake of the much controversial Iraq war. A lot of movies, documentaries and new articles have since then been published trying to give the general public across continents a more varied and comprehensive insight into the election process and what tipped the scales in favour of the two most contentious leaders. The American president has been surrounded with controversy since the twin tour attacks and his rebuttal to that, the capture of Saddam Hussein and finally the Iraq war which is a dark reality which has still not ended. The civil disputes are ongoing between the army and anti social elements in that society trying to keep the dispute ongoing. USA has been at the helm of lot of international criticism; all this has been made possible due to the regular broadcasts and news items being provided by television and other media mediums.
An interesting name in media who has brought a lot to the fore front and what George Bush has really set out to do is Michael Moore. His book, “Dude, where’s my country?” is an attempt to uncover some truth and factual information about George Bush, his strategies in the past, terrorism, the use of tax issues to buy the public vote and America the liberal paradise which is no more. The book is a poignant account of how much has changed in America the land of the free under the regime of George Bush who has worked on his terms and conditions against popular demands and International interventions. The history for this big calamity is set in the time when Bill Clinton was the USA president. He being a liberal did not use radical moves to counter attack everyone considered America’s enemy. Clinton was a popular leader by choice who really put USA up there as the world super power and not so by doing direct attacks on countries like Iraq and other nations who presented a threat to America’s prosperity. It was during the regime of Bill Clinton that one learnt in the 1990s how to fight all the wars yet keep the losses of the Americans to a bare minimum. Clinton closed down bases, reduced the number of troops, and funneled money into other projects which were indirect attacks on other nations but without jeopardizing the lives of many Americans. The Clinton era built America to become a high tech lean machine which is was really helped pentagon and the Bush government in fighting back the terrorist attacks.
The book further goes on to pin the blames of the terrorist attacks in USA on George Bush and his former collaboration with the Bin Laden family. The book is highly controversial in nature as it makes factual claims about Bin Laden’s close association with America and with the Bush family. Despite all this being published openly in the wake of the attacks and the negative profiling George Bush underwent, he still came back successful in the next elections which followed. Is this a surprise or does it contain more fact about the truth in brainwashing the public voters into believing what one wants them to. George Bush in a very strategic move has used the war to win the elections; he has put the fear of public safety and the war against terrorism to pass more and more acts which give them control over public records, their activities and lives. The patriotic act is one such act which takes a bite out of American democracy and freedom of speech and action. George Bush has effectively used the wars to tell the public that he won these for them and that all his actions are only to serve and protect the American public. Although there is democracy it’s more under pressure that people practice the same for the fear of prosecution under these new acts which give the government and officials more control over a citizens life.
Some of the information in this book is insightful and frightening as it explores all the dirty facts which have been so far hidden from the public eye but the most inspiring fact is that the man embroiled in such controversy is once again been reelected as president of Unites states of America. The defense budget was increased drastically in the wake of these attacks and the office was in sync with these efforts given the attacks and the inkling of more such attacks in the future. Also George Bush has had a powerful ally in UK, Tony Blair who has
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